Baseball – Notes from the ABCCL All-Star Game
LAKEWOOD - Brick Memorial alumnus Mike Rytelewski had never really considered the competition level when playing summer baseball, but with one year left in his college career at Widener University, he decided it was time to see what he could do.
After two years playing in the Jersey Shore Baseball League, Rytelewski got a roster spot in the Atlantic Baseball Confederation Collegiate League this summer. Not only did the 2011 Brick Memorial graduate jump at the chance to play, but he has also made the most of it.
“I never really thought about the competition level in the summer until this past year,” said Rytelewski, who began his collegiate career at Ocean County College. “My coach got me onto a team (in the ABCCL), and I was excited at the chance to play against this competition. There are a whole bunch of Division I and Division II guys here and they can all play, so it’s forced me to raise my game to another level. I knew this was going to be the last chance I had to play in a really competitive league during the summer, so I really wanted to give it a shot.”
Playing in the ABCCL Capt. Ryan K. Iannelli All-Star Game Monday night at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood, Rytelewski reached base in both of his plate appearances, including a walk and a run scored in the deciding five-run rally in the ninth inning of Team Yogi Berra’s 5-0 win over Team Larry Doby.
Rytelewski lined a single to the gap in right-center field in his first at-bat of the game to lead off the top of the seventh inning and worked a walk to put runners on first and second in the top of the ninth with the game still scoreless. Team Berra loaded the bases with one out and Rytelewski scored the second of two runs on a two-run single by Nick Gonchar of Molloy College.
During the ABCCL season, Rytelewski is hitting .294 with a .351 on-base percentage and four doubles as a shortstop. Although he hit only .205 for Widener this past season, he posted a .330 on-base percentage and was one of three players on the roster to walk (13) more than he struck out (12).
“It’s awesome coming back here and seeing a lot of the Shore guys,” Rytelewski said. “I don’t see too many guys from around here during the college season, so it’s cool to represent the area while I’m out there and represent Widener and Brick when I’m back here. Plus, this is like 10 minutes from my house, so I didn’t have to come too far.”
One Giant “Step”
Prior to breaking out in the late innings of Monday’s game, Team Berra did not reach base through the first five innings against the Doby pitching staff. A hit batter with one out ended the perfect game 16 batters in and with one runner on, former Middletown South standout Stefan Poggioli broke up the no-hit bid with a single to right-center and took second on the throw to third base from the outfield.
Fresh off hitting .317 with five doubles during his sophomore season at Catholic University, Poggioli is hitting .333 while leading the ABCCL with a .522 on-base percentage.
The instructions from the Lafayette College coaching staff for left-hander Adam Ashenfarb this summer were to find two things: a third pitch and confidence.
The former Marlboro standout showed off both in two innings of work as the starter on the winning team Monday night. Ashenfarb was the only pitcher to throw two innings, allowing one hit, striking out two and walking none. He featured a changeup – as per request of his coaches – to right-handed batters, and when it was time to put batters away, he went to his well-established breaking ball.
The first of those strikeouts came on a 3-and-2 curveball that induced a swinging strike by Columbia slugger Joey Falcone, who leads the league with four home runs. Falcone is the son of former Major League pitcher Pete Falcone and served two tours of duty in Iraq and another in Afghanistan before returning home and enrolling at Columbia by way of the College of Staten Island.
“The third pitch is the changeup, and it’s important just to keep batters honest, especially right-handers,” Ashenfarb said. “I know my fastball and curveball are my best pitches and those are still the pitches I’m going to lean on the most, but if I can develop the change a little more, I feel like those other two pitches are going to be even better.”
As a senior at Marlboro in 2012, Ashenfarb overcame a midseason lat muscle injury to pitch the Mustangs to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV semifinals. The pulled lat muscle still slowed what promised to be a potentially dominant season for the Marlboro ace and although he went into this season feeling 100 percent healthy, he never got a chance to show off his best stuff. He pitched just one inning, in which he allowed two runs.
This summer, workload has not been an issue for Ashenfarb, who has logged 45 innings on the mound with the next closest pitcher in Monday’s game throwing 32. In those 45 innings, Ashenfarb has a 2.20 ERA, 31 strikeouts and a walks-plus-hits-per-innings-pitched (WHIP) below 1.00.
“This season wasn’t what we hoped for as a team and for me, it was just about trying to earn time on the mound,” Ashenfarb said. “I probably was pressing a little too much when I had a chance to pitch in front of the coaches, and this summer was really about getting my work in and just throwing the ball the way I know how to throw it. So far, everything has felt really good and I feel like I can kind of go in with a clean slate.”
Ashenfarb even got to face off against a longtime rival to lead off the second inning. Manalapan alum and Rowan outfielder Billy Moed grounded out against Ashenfarb to lead off the second inning. The two players went head-to-head on many occasions in the Shore Conference Class A North, although the head-to-head matchup predates even those games.
“We’ve been facing each other since middle school,” Ashenfarb said of his rivalry with Moed, who was a key cog in the second of Manalapan’s two consecutive Group IV state championships in 2011 and 2012. “He’s always seemed to get the better of me, so it was nice to get him out for once tonight.”
The Shore Conference was well-represented Monday night, particularly at a couple of key positions up the middle. In addition to Rytelewski, Monmouth University’s Sean Arnott (Christian Brothers Academy) and Rutgers-Newark’s Ryan MacFarlane (Freehold Township) both saw time at shortstop and each made a sparkling defensive play.
Arnott made a sliding stop in the hole in the bottom of the fifth and although his accurate throw was not in time to nab the runner, Team Berra turned it into an out at the plate when Ramapo’s Ryan DeAngelis tried to score from second on the play. MacFarlane made a similar play to his left and made the throw to first as his momentum took him toward left field.
On top of the representation at shortstop, the Shore also had three alumni behind the plate in Monday’s game, including both starters. Monmouth backstop Connor White – a former All-Shore catcher at Wall – got the nod for Doby, while former Brick standout and current University of Delaware catcher Brian Mayer started for Berra.
Both White and Mayer have three home runs and four doubles apiece during the summer, with Mayer driving in 21 runs and White hitting .373 with a .489 on-base percentage.
Former Monsignor Donovan catcher Evan Worth – heading into his junior year at Neumann University – was the third Shore alumnus to play behind the plate Monday. Worth has slugged two homers and nine doubles during his summer season after hitting .324 in 37 at-bats as a sophomore for Neumann.
Toms River North alumnus Chris Ryan found it hard to break the starting lineup as a senior for the Mariners, but has found success during his post-high school career. The Susquehanna first baseman is hitting .372 this summer with two doubles as he gears up for his junior season on the baseball diamond.
As a high school athlete, Ryan made headlines as an All-Shore goalkeeper on the Toms River North boys soccer team, which advanced to the Shore Conference Tournament final during his senior season. Ryan showed off his quick reflexes and made what amounted to a great save Monday night when he snatched the ball out of the air on a foul ball bobbled by catcher Hunter Courson to record the final out of the top of the sixth inning with runners on second and third. Courson – a Sam Houston State redshirt sophomore – was named the game’s top position player.
Coincidentally, the first-team All Shore goalkeeper from the 2011 season – Zach Zoller of Wall – is one of Susquehanna’s two returning keepers next season.
Ryan was in the opposite dugout of former Toms River North teammate Brett Fontenelli, now a redshirt sophomore at Seton Hall. The two former Mariners were one of two pairs of former Shore Conference teammates, the other two being Moed and left-handed pitcher Lou Marotta (Alvernia College) from Manalapan.
On the Mound
Following Ashenfarb, three other former Shore Conference pitchers made an appearance Monday night. Marotta pitched a scoreless inning for Berra, while St. Rose grad and Sacred Heart University right-hander Nick Morrissey tossed a scoreless eighth inning for Doby. Ocean alumnus and Stockton right-hander Kevin Buell retired the first two batters of the bottom of the ninth inning before giving way to Team Berra’s last available pitcher.
Eric Duncan is currently building up a solid coaching résumé for someone still shy of his 30th birthday, but that’s not for what he is best known.
Now the head coach of the Monmouth Monarchs of the ABCCL and an assistant at Seton Hall University, Duncan brings a unique perspective as a former top prospect and first-round draft pick of the New York Yankees. Monday night, he served as head coach of Team Doby.
After wowing scouts and local baseball fans as an amateur player for Seton Hall Prep, Duncan got the call from the hometown Yankees in 2003 as the club’s first round pick, No. 27 overall. He was named one of Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects in both 2005 and 2006, but injuries and overall offensive struggles curtailed Duncan’s professional career.
Although he spent time with the Major League club in spring training, Duncan did not get past Triple-A with the Yankees. After brief stints in the Braves, Rockies Cardinals and Royals organizations, he announced his retirement in 2011 and took a job as a volunteer assistant with Seton Hall.